Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Pros & Cons of Internships

During the summer one of the hot topics of discussion was how ethical the football industry was being in terms of Internships and the number of jobs advertised which were voluntary.
I mentioned in my previous post about degrees that work experience was a valuable asset when looking for a job within the football industry, but there are positives and negatives to how these are handled, which I'll discuss below.
Some Internships can be extremely rewarding. With the right mentoring, a good environment and somebody who wants to learn and get the most out of the role while also pushing their own initiative and contribution the experience you can have is amazing. I was recently at Coventry City Ladies and the experience I gained while working there was brilliant. I was in charge of a team of 5 other analysts and had an excellent working relationship with the manager, coaching staff and players, which meant being able to put across ideas and processes of working whilst also learning about what a semi-pro club was like.
I am now at Barnsley which brings me onto another massive benefit. Being around the day-to-day running of a club. I work full time for a Local Authority and have had a few other 9-5 jobs and the difference between working for a club and working full time in a 'normal' job is quite staggering. An essential part of the job is learning your place within the club and how it fits in with the many other parts. How do you work with the coaches, the sports scientists, the head of recruitment, the players. Even how things are done on a daily basis such as the preparation before a game or training or what players are spending more time working on. The knowledge picked up from those around you cannot be beaten.
A lot of this goes on your personality. Quiet and shy? Being around a busy football club might not be the right thing for you. Like to have set routines and be told what to do for the simple life? Again, probably not for you. Being a good performance analyst requires confidence in what you are doing, initiative, communication skills but also knowing when to shut up! If the manager is ranting at a player and saying "your passing has been sh*t today" it's not the time to bring out that players passing stats making him look good!
In my opinion it's also necessary to really believe in what you are doing. Even recently I've met people doing Performance Analysis who don't fully believe in what they are doing or if it's what they want to do. Now, as I mentioned I've worked for a few years in different areas before I got to a point where I knew that being a Performance Analyst was the right career for me. I've met people who have no background from their Sports Science degree in Performance Analysis (see my earlier blog post on the pros & cons of this particular degree) and have got a job in it based on thinking it's something that looks pretty cool. I've met people who would rather be a coach but they got an opportunity to do Performance Analysis and took it. I've met people who would rather do Sports Science but it looked like a good experience. All these are fine but having a job in an area you want to focus on is a massive bonus.
The pay. Usually none!! Sometimes you'll get expenses, sometimes you'll get a small bursary. Usually you'll be expected to work full time 40 hours a week for nothing.
I see why football clubs do this, it's probably the most loved sport in the world and people have a love for their club or the sport in general they wouldn't have for something else. Can you imagine if I said to somebody "yeah, you can come and work with me doing communications for the Council for a year with no pay" I doubt I'd get a lot of takers!!
Interns not getting paid is being debated in court and are being investigated by the overuse of them to run their website, and one of the main problems with it is you probably rule out a lot of people who would be excellent in the role but cannot afford to do it. I cannot afford to give up my job which I use to pay the mortgage and bills as well as live to do a full time internship. I currently work 37 hours a week plus my Internship at Barnsley, plus my casual work for Onside Analysis (roughly 10-15 hours a month) plus some consultancy work and there's many others like me around the country. In fact I'm at a significant disadvantage compared to somebody at University or even just finished who can afford the time to do a full time internship. How anybody can afford to work for free for a year without even expenses to get to the training ground is baffling to me, and in essence elitist as it favours people who's parents can afford to subsidise them.
The flip side to this is that if somebody is willing to work 30+ hours a week unpaid then they SHOULD be at the front of the queue when jobs become available. However, another negative of Interns is that what is to stop a football club turning round after you've done 30+ hours a week for 40 weeks a year unpaid and saying "sorry, we haven't got any paid positions" and then taking on another intern to do the same job you'd been doing for the next season? It would be good if Internships were essentially prolonged interviews, a chance to showcase your skills and abilities and then get a paid job from it or not be deemed what they are looking for. As it currently stands you see the same clubs advertising for internships year after year. Now I'm not saying that the people doing the internships aren't gaining experience from these but they then effectively go back into the market and are looking for a job again, albeit with another years experience but up against another years worth of university students all looking for the same thing and willing to work for free.
From my own personal experience dealing with students or people who have recently finished University can be hit and miss. I've been in a similar position where you come out of University and think you know it all and sometimes working in "real world" situations gives you valuable life experience to take into this type of job. Again, it takes a certain type of person to be able to establish themselves within a club and build up a rapport especially with a 1st team squad and this is much harder to do when you are young and straight out of university. I'm not saying that all students should go and work in an office for X years before they get a job within football but you can usually spot the ones who have had to graft and the ones who think the world owes them a living!!

Clubs will often give the Interns the jobs that they don't want to do. This is understandable as they are basically the bottom rung of the ladder but if somebody spends all their time tagging and burning CD's is this really Performance Analysis? What exactly are they analysing? It should be beneficial for both parties, the club should be able to gain an extra pair of hands and move the club forward in a fast moving area and the intern should gain practical experience as well as making sure it is something they want to do as a career.

So, what are the arguments for and against Internships?

The first would be that if clubs had to pay interns, would they? Or would they simply not take anybody on? Although paying somebody minimum wage doesn't sound much, especially with the numbers turned over by a club a lot of the income goes on player wages. Whether this is ethically right or not is a debate for another time but the simple fact is a lot of clubs look to make savings where they can and employing somebody for a role they are not 100% sure how to use won't be top of their list of priorities. This won't be the case in every club but especially lower down the Football League and at non-league level, where a grass roots performance analysis movement seems to be forming with clubs realising that you don't need expensive systems to do the work, the money is not likely to be there to take people on.

Another argument is if clubs don't take on interns to see if they can do the work effectively and are a good "fit" for the club how are they going to know who to take on? I suppose the obvious answer is like most other jobs that are advertised in the world, via interview. The problem with this is that working within football is NOT like most other jobs. I see the pros and cons for this but using an internship like a trial period does make sense. Couple this with a lot of people applying for the job (I heard about an unpaid internship recently that had around 400 applications so you can imagine how many they get for paid jobs) and people applying with similar qualifications and back office staff would probably spend more time reading applications than training the team!

How many internships do you do before you switch careers? I suppose this is completely down to the person. I've seen some people who have been doing internships for 3-4 years? Most clubs seem to think 18 months to 2 years of experience unpaid is like paying your dues but does it get to the point where a club looks at you and thinks "they've been doing work unpaid for 3 years, why has nobody taken them on?". This could be for a variety of reasons and I suppose like in most walks of life, luck plays a large part. A club getting funding at the right time or a manager getting the sack when a job seems to be in the pipeline (I've been the victim of this one!) can be the good luck or bad luck you need to get taken on permanently and often you have no influence over these.

What are the options?

I've tried to express the upsides and downside to Internships and keep a balanced view. A lot of time the experience will depend on the club and those around you. A structured environment and somebody willing to learn and showcase their own talents can be a huge benefit and you would hope every club would keep some money aside that if things work out well the potential is there to take you on on a paid basis.

Another alternative (and this may go back to a perfect world situation) would be to have a sort of recruitment pool of talent, perhaps run by the FA or one of the major companies who supply the technology, who could do the interview process on behalf of the club and provide a list of candidates. Even if this cuts the list of applicants from 400 to 6 or so suitable options which the club then interviews it at least would save some time.

The Performance Analysis industry is still emerging and is growing rapidly with many things still not fully exploited by clubs. Despite this the amount of people entering the industry and wanting to get a job within it is probably growing much more rapidly.

While Internships may not be perfect they are the best method currently available and are essential for anybody wanting to gain entry into the football industry.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and any positive/negative experiences you have had with Internships at football clubs. You can post anonymously if you don't feel comfortable sharing stories and letting people know who you are.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Degrees - Which one suits a Performance Analyst?

In my previous blog about my journey to become a performance analyst I mentioned about a post I was saving around degrees and internships in general.
I've tried to provide a balanced perspective based on my views and experiences of the last 18 months of working in and trying to work in the industry.
Performance Analysis, in fact Sports Science in general, is one of the fastest growing areas of football but one thing that is not growing as much is the number of paid jobs available. Since the Summer of 2012 there have been roughly 10 jobs advertised through various sites with a reasonable salary attached. On the reverse side of this, there have been countless number of Unpaid/Voluntary internships.
There are positive and negative sides to this which I'll map out later but my initial point is around the criteria most of the jobs specify. I'm sure a lot of the people who read my blog who have worked hard for 3 years to gain a Sports Science degree will have opinions contrary to what I've written here and I'm more than happy for any comments to be posted below, I'm interested to know what people who have been down that path think.
Almost all jobs advertising Performance Analyst roles request a degree in Sports Science no matter whether this is for a paid job or an internship. Now, for somebody like me who missed the boat on doing Sports Science degrees (these were very specialised when I went to university) this makes it very hard to even get a foot in the door at most clubs. I fully appreciate the necessity of learning and think that the specific Performance Analysis degrees offered by places like UWIC and Nottingham Trent are excellent.
What I do have a query with is why a Sports Science degree is often cited as mandatory for Performance Analysis jobs. Sports Science degrees tend to cover a wide range of subjects notably Physiology, Psychology and Biomechanics. Most degrees include the OPTION of doing a Performance Analysis module in the final year. This usually involves looking at the range of systems available (Prozone, Sportscode, Dartfish etc) and seeing how they work along with some very brief study into notational analysis. Sometimes the bulk of the module will be around a placement within a club.
Not all degrees are like this I must stress and the specific Performance Analysis ones cover a wide range of methods involved in the subject, as well as a thorough understanding of how they work as well as several placements usually across a variety of sports.
From my experience within the Performance Analysis environment of a club a Sports Science degree is not only not necessary but often useless. There is no more than a basic understanding of Physiology and Biomechanics necessary and much more appropriate degrees would surely be around IT, Economics, Maths or Communications. A few examples to back up my point include complex connection of computer equipment, File Sharing across FTP platforms, Regression Analysis and statistical studies, none of which is taught across the Sports Science degree.
There are other methods of gaining this knowledge, it cannot be stressed how important work experience is and there are several performance analysis courses which look at specific software such as the Prozone & Dartfish courses. It is also always useful to have a good understanding of football in general and the FA Coaching courses help to understand why Performance Analysts look at things in context. In the future I hope the FA take a lead on the field and push specific courses around Performance Analysis, not just how to use the systems but how to actually ANALYSE a game.
In my opinion one of the reasons that a Sports Science degree is requested is a lot of Leads across Football clubs have the same degree and they don't know anything else to ask for.
I'd like to see a club take a step back and think about why they are asking for what they are asking for. Think about what they want the person to know and how that would apply to a degree or what they'd learnt on a degree and how this could help the club.

As I said above, I've tried to be balanced and I'd be interested to hear what people with degrees in Sports Science think and whether the studying they did for 3 years is being utilised in any jobs, paid or voluntary they are doing.

I'll also follow up with a post on my views around Internships soon!

Thanks for reading, comments welcomed.